Meanwhile back in St. Louis, as the Christmas shopping season was winding down Cardinal fans had to settle for breaking news, followed by Google searches, of the Cardinals signing of catcher Justin Knoedler, outfielder Joe Thurston and left-hander Katsuhiko Maekawa to minor league contracts.
One can understand some of the frustration from the Cardinal fans waiting for the team to step up and improve on a team that finished a disappointing fourth place, 11.5 games back of the Chicago Cubs, last year, following a third place showing in 2007 after the 2006 World Championship season.
There is good news in St. Louis, if you look hard enough to find it, and there is reason for hope my friends, as the countdown to spring training begins in earnest next week.
Granted, the Cardinals finished in fourth place last season, but they finished with a won-loss record of 86-76, .531, including closing the season out on a positive note, winning their last six games. The 86 win season of 2008 represented a significant improvement over the sub-five hundred season, (78-84, .481) in 2007 and was actually three games more than they won during the regular season in 2006 when the club won its 10th World Series championship.
The Cardinals last season actually exceeded my expectations, despite my picking them to finish in second place behind the odds-on favorite, the Chicago Cubs. My prediction was based on the return of starters Chris Carpenter and Mark Mulder to the rotation and of course I couldn't have anticipated the losses in the second half of the season including; the loss of outfielder Rick Ankiel (lower abdominal strain), catcher Yadier Molina (bruised left thigh), closer Jason Isringhausen (mental breakdown/flexor tendon surgery), along with outfielder Chris Duncan, who lost his power stroke and played in less than half of the Redbird games.
Throw in that starter Adam Wainwright was out for 2 ½ months with a sprained middle finger on his right hand and the gamble on the comeback of right-hander, former Cub starter, Matt Clement didn't pay off. Any reasonable fan would have to concede that the 2008 Cardinals, who were written off as non-contenders before the season began, exceeded expectations and can take pride in their achievements on the field.
--- The Cardinals commitment to their farm system is beginning to pay dividends. The club set a franchise record with 11 players making their major league debut with the team last season, with more to come in the near future; OF Colby Rasmus, INF David Freese, INF Tyler Greene, 3B Brett Wallace and RHP Jess Todd.
--- The Cardinals didn't trade Rick Ankiel for a short reliever, or anyone else for that matter. The team and the fans have a financial and emotional investment in this budding star. He may be playing in his final season in St. Louis, so sit back and enjoy.
--- The addition of left-hander Trever Miller will go a long way to solving the bullpen issues. The Cardinals were wise to be patient and wait to sign him to a one-year deal rather than the initially proposed two-year deal, thus giving Miller the incentive to play for that next contract.
--- The Cardinals may be renting shortstop Khalil Greene for just one season, but again that is a good thing. Greene will be trying to make his big comeback in St. Louis after a disappointing season in San Diego, looking for that next big payday. The benefit for the Cardinal fans is, they get to see one of the most exciting young players in the game, (when he's on his game), while they wait for the arrival of one of their own at short, from the farm system.
--- The Cardinals retained right-hander Kyle Lohse who agreed to a four-year, $41 million contract that should turn out to be a bargain in the long run. In his first season in St. Louis, Lohse posted a team leading 15 wins, going 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA, 119 strikeouts and 49 walks. He made 33 starts and pitched a team high 200 innings, reaching the 200 innings milestone for the second time in his career. I don't care what happens in the free-agent market in the next 60-90 days, the Lohse contract was and is a good deal.
--- Chris Carpenter didn't need off-season arm surgery and is expected to be back at full strength and pitch without restrictions in spring training. I know Carpenter pitched in just four games last season including three starts for a grand total of 15.1 innings, but he posted a 1.76 ERA, amazing considering all the lost playing time since 2006. He'll likely not win another Cy Young Award this season, but he should reassert himself as the team's staff ace by the All-Star break. The Cardinals still have Carpenter under contract through the 2011 season with a club option for 2012. This is a good thing.
--- Albert Pujols picked up the 2008 National League MVP Award. Ironically, it was Albert, who in the past has said that if you didn't lead your club to a pennant, you didn't deserve the MVP Award. Look for Pujols to prove to baseball that he was deserving of the MVP award. He'll have another monster season, the kind that we have almost come to take for granted and will lead the Cardinals to pennant or almost die trying.
--- The ‘New Kids on the Block', right-handers Kyle McClellan, Chris Perez, Jason Motte, and Mitchell Boggs will be back on the mound for St. Louis this season, a year older with some major league experience under their belts, which should spell trouble for opposing batters. Boggs should be given an outside shot at least to make the rotation out of spring training.
--- The Cardinals stopped waiting and counting on the return of Mark Mulder. (Thank-you)
--- Outfielder Chris Duncan is apparently healthy; the Cardinals need to showcase him as much as possible in spring training, in hopes to enhance his trade value before the regular season starts.
--- Outfielder Ryan Ludwick will be back, rumors that the Silver Slugger Award winner was on the trading block didn't sit well with a lot of fans, including yours truly.
--- The Cardinals closer may be right under their nose, in Chris Perez or Jason Motte. The Cardinals love the tandem rotation in the lower levels of the minors, why not tandem closers? Takes some of the pressure off of them, I'm not even sure that is needed, they both want the ball with the game on the line. I'd rather win or lose with one of our own.
--- The All-Star Game will be played in St. Louis this season, a revenue boost to the team and the community.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Inflation; in 1955, the year in which I was born, the St. Louis Cardinals payroll? $349,000
Did you know? In 2007 the St. Louis Cardinals gate receipts of $94 million, made up less than half of the $194 million revenue generated by the ball club, with $109 million going to player expenses. Compare that to the Chicago Cubs, gate receipts of $103 million, well below half of their total revenue of $214, of which $130 million went to player expenses.
Remember Whitey's boys of 1982? They won the World Championship despite being outspent on team payroll by 14 other major league teams.
The game is still played on the field,and the bottom line is, don't get wrapped up too much in the "Money Party", it will only lead to a morning hangover.
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